Saturday college primer
LSU vs. Alabama
(Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST, CBS)
What to watch for:
• The last time we saw the Crimson Tide, DT Terrence Cody came up with one of the biggest plays of the year, blocking a last-second field goal attempt to preserve Alabama’s sluggish victory over Tennessee. However, I expect the Crimson Tide to be well-rested and running on all cylinders after finally getting their bye last week. LSU will need to match Alabama’s intensity level early if it hopes to keep this one close because all the ‘Bama defense needs is a slight lead to really turn up the pressure and make it tough for opposing offenses to score.
• Speaking of the Alabama defense, expect the Tide to take a page out of the Florida playbook on third-and-long situations and force LSU QB Jordan Jefferson to make plays with his arm down the field. Jefferson is still developing as a pocket passer and at times struggles to decipher information and anticipate throws in the pass game. So instead of leaving itself vulnerable against the QB scramble on the back end, expect Bama to typically only rush three or four and drop seven or eight on third down.
• Can the LSU defense keep pace? We’ve seen in recent weeks the troubles the Alabama offense has had manufacturing plays in the pass game and getting the ball down the field. Look for Tigers defensive coordinator John Chavis to be content loading the box on early downs and forcing the ‘Bama offense to throw into the teeth of a very talented LSU secondary on third-and-long situations.
Ohio State vs. Penn State
(Saturday, 3:30 p.m. EST, ABC)
What to watch for:
• The Nittany Lions’ defense struggled last week to contain Northwestern’s dual-threat QB Mike Kafka, and you can bet Ohio State QB Terrelle Pryor will have some success running the football in this one. However, in order for the Buckeyes to win, they need Pryor to take care of the ball and make plays down the field with his arm, something he’s been unable to do consistently this season.
• Can the Penn State offensive line handle the talented Ohio State pass rushers? The Buckeyes have done a nice job on third down recently kicking DE Cameron Heyward inside and allowing DE Thaddeus Gibson and linebacker Ross Homan to create off the edge. Expect a heavy dose of RB Evan Royster inside to help keep the Nittany Lions out of third and long.
• Does Ohio State have enough girth inside to hold up vs. the Penn State run game? Senior defensive tackle Doug Worthington is a tall, long-armed lineman, but he lacks power at the point of attack and consistently gets washed out on contact. It will be interesting to see how aggressively the Ohio State coaching staff run blitzes its linebackers, especially early in the game.
Oklahoma vs. Nebraska
(Saturday, 8 p.m. EST, ABC)
What to watch for:
• As dominant as Nebraska’s DT Ndamukong Suh has been this season, it’s DT Jared Crick who is starting to help take the Cornhuskers defense to another level. Crick had five sacks last week vs. Baylor and possesses the type of length and initial quickness to consistently beat blocks inside and get after the ball carrier. In no way am I saying Oklahoma shouldn’t double down on Suh, but the Sooners need to find a way to help slow down Crick as well, because he’s simply destroying anyone he faces one on one.
• On the other side of the ball, Oklahoma has its own talented DT in Gerald McCoy. His combination of initial burst, power and body control makes him nearly impossible to block 1v1 and he, like Suh, will need to be consistently doubled inside. However, the Sooners have one of the nation’s most talented defensive lines, and even if Nebraska is able to take McCoy out of the game, it’s still going to have a tough time trying to block everyone else up front.
• The Cornhuskers need to keep it close early in order to have a chance. Nebraska’s offense is simply not designed to come from behind, and it can’t afford to get into a shootout with the Sooners. Expect head coach Bo Pelini to be very calculated with his blitz packages and force Sooners QB Landry Jones to take care of the football and nickel and dime his way down the field.
Fresno State vs. Idaho
(Saturday, 10:30 p.m. EST, ESPNU)
What to watch for:
• Idaho offensive lineman Mike Iupati might very well be the nation’s top senior guard prospect and is really starting to build momentum as we get closer to the draft. He possesses an impressive blend of size, power and athleticism for the position and has been absolutely dominant this season. There are some questions about his level of competition, but the guy looks like a potential starter at the next level and is definitely worth a watch in this one.
• Fresno State RB Ryan Mathews not only is one of the best junior running backs prospects in the nation, he looks like one of the top overall prospects as well. He possesses an ideal combination of power, burst, lateral agility and vision for the position and has displayed the ability to be productive against the consistent eight- and nine-men boxes Fresno State faces week in and week out. Idaho is going to have a tough time trying to slow him down with its undersized front four.
• The sleeper to keep an eye on is Fresno State’s 6-4, 210-pound wideout, Seyi Ajirotutu. Ajirotutu is coming off a seven catch, 124-yard performance against Utah State last week and has the size and body control to consistently go up and make plays on the football. He lacks the type of speed and initial burst to consistently make plays vertically down the field, but he’s a smooth route runner who knows how to move the chains and creates a lot of mismatches by the red zone.
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